18 April 2014
No. 1619


LeasyScan phenotyping platform for better plant drought adaptation opens at ICRISAT

(Left) Dr W Dar cutting the ribbon to officially launch the LeasyScan phenotyping platform at the ICRISAT headquarters. (Right) Dr V Vadez explaining the importance and function of the platform. Photo: PS Rao & J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT

“The LeasyScan phenotyping platform is an integral part of our three-pillar approach to speed up breeding, along with genomics and bioinformatics. This unique platform facility is the first of its kind among the CGIAR Centers and will ensure leading edge science in developing best cultivar and management packages fitted to specific drought scenarios,” said Dr William Dar, Director General, ICRISAT.

“LeasyScan, a high-throughput phenotyping platform, was designed with a clear research target – to measure leaf area quicker so as to access the dynamics of leaf development and leaf conductance, traits that are the focus for plant drought adaptation,” said Dr Vincent Vadez, Principal Scientist - Plant Physiology, ICRISAT.

The high throughput computerized platform based on 3-D images will allow scientists to analyze the phenotypes of plants in greater detail, and conduct large-scale screening of plants to be linked and integrated into genomics and breeding works to speed up the development of improved, drought-adapted crops.

The facility at the ICRISAT headquarters. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The platform was designed by Dr Vadez, along with Drs Gregoire Hummel and Uladzimir Zhokavets of Phenospex. LeasyScan uses 3-D images to have a better evaluation of leaf canopy parameters, and of a ‘camera-to-plant’ concept to increase the throughput. The high throughput scanning equipment can scan between 3200 to 4800 plots per 2 hours. The platform is a totally new concept with a huge potential. It is meant and designed to be versatile and adaptable to upgrades and to additional sensors and plant parameters.

The LeasyScan platform uses the PlantEye ® scanner, a camera with a 45 degree angle that captures 3-D images. Several algorithms then operate to extract leaf area, leaf angle, plant height, and average leaf area. The scanners measure pre-set areas (called sectors) of 65 cm width and either 40 cm or 60 cm length .

A grid of barcodes throughout the platform allows re-setting scanner position in y and z directions. Eight scanners are mounted on top of an irrigation boom. Their movements at a constant speed and space above the pots have been two of the key considerations during the design of the platform .

The LeasyScan phenotyping platform was launched by Dr Dar on 17 April at the ICRISAT headquarters in India.

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2014 – ICRISAT’s Year of Gender

ICRISAT has just released its gender strategy. Also newly available are the latest news on gender research being undertaken and stories from the field. See this and more in the newly launched gender section in the ICRISAT website: www.icrisat.org/icrisat-gender-approach.htm

This is all part of ICRISAT making 2014 its Year of Gender, placing special emphasis both internally and through its research to continue to challenge ourselves on understanding and integrating gender in our research for development work.

Women continue to play a vital role in agricultural development in the semi-arid tropics (SAT). They face extreme challenges and constraints in accessing resources, farm inputs, services, knowledge, opportunities, and their productivity remains low relative to their potential, thus affecting agricultural production, economic growth and the well-being of their families and communities.

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Dr Vicki Wilde of the Gates Foundation calls for gender-responsive research for development

Dr V Wilde and ICRISAT staff members with a group of farmers at Gendi cooperative society. (Right) In the maize-pigeonpea field of Ms Rose Fratern Muriang in Babati, Tanzania.
Photos: Ganga Rao, ICRISAT

Research for development initiatives need to be challenged to become more gender responsive, such as to consider extra labor stresses of new developments on women, and to measure impacts of realized value on women and men. These were key messages from Dr Vicki Wilde, Senior Program Officer, Global Development, Agricultural Development and Gender of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while visiting the Tropical Legumes II (TL II) project sites in Tanzania.

Expounding on the position of the Gates Foundation on gender-focused research, Dr Wilde said that as breeding increases production through variety development and marketing, the implications for increased labor requirements especially for women and girls, should be considered. The tradeoffs that women make to accommodate such increase in labor requirements might have negative impacts on nutrition/malnutrition at the household level. She therefore stressed that the foundation is keen to see research interventions that lead to alleviation of labor shortages. The introduction of groundnut shelling machines in Malawi was cited as an example.

Dr Wilde further explained that at the foundation, there is an ongoing discussion on measures of impacts going beyond realized productivity to realized value for both women and men. Realized value would focus on incomes, nutrition, food security and environmental impacts. Data to monitor realized value is therefore key to make sure that women, men and households in general, continue to benefit as projects succeed.

“The focus may not have been part of TL II activities, but will be expected to be part of the TL III activities, and in order to prepare the process for gender data monitoring, there is a need to have comprehensive gender baselines,” Dr Wilde said.

“Is TL III the vehicle that can deliver ‘realized value?” she asked the TL III Project Team. There is a need to demonstrate that the project has partnerships that catalyze adoption and that gender needs are embedded in the process.

Dr Wilde was in Tanzania on 31 March-2 April, where she visited the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) for a briefing on project activities in the development of pigeonpea and beans varieties, and their dissemination to communities through seed systems. She was joined by ICRISAT’s Drs Emmanuel Monyo, Principal Scientist and Coordinator TL II, Ganga Rao NVPR, Senior Scientist, Legumes Breeding, and Esther Njuguna, Gender Scientist, Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) for various meetings and field visits.

Mr Stephen Lyimo, Senior Pigeonpea Researcher at SARI presented a brief overview of TL II’s research for development initiatives in Tanzania, particularly on pigeonpea. Mr Sostine Onesmo Kweka, Senior Phaseolus Bean Researcher, presented on Phaseolous bean research in Tanzania, while Mr Jean Claude Rubyogo, Seed Systems Specialist, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Arusha, presented on gender integration in legumes research for development in TL II countries.

Dr Wilde also interacted with Babati pigeonpea farmers in Manyara district and the Arumeru bean farmers. The farmers shared their experiences on growing pigeonpea, marketing and utilization as a food and nutritional security crop. The most successful women farmers in Gendi village of Babati, Ms Rose Fratern Muriang, and in Kikati village of Arumeru, Ms Mollel, shared their stories with Dr Wilde.

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Tropical Legumes III to ensure increased productivity and nutrition for smallholder farmers

Participants of the TL III stakeholders’ consultation and planning workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

“Tropical Legumes (TL) III will build on the achievements and the lessons learned from TL I and II in ensuring increased legume productivity and nutrition for smallholder farmers,” said Dr Anthony J Cavalieri, Senior Program Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

During the stakeholders’ consultation and planning workshop for the TL III project, the need to sustain the gains from TL I and II, which facilitated the release and availability of more than 129 new improved varieties of the six target crops in various countries across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, was highlighted.

TL I and II strengthened partnerships among different actors and stakeholders in the legumes value chain and linkages with markets; increased incomes and benefits from improved technologies; and improved livelihoods for smallholder farmers and other end users with help of improved crop management practices.

At the TL III planning workshop held in Nairobi, Kenya on 17-21 March, 143 participants from 15 countries including Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, India and Bangladesh met to deliberate on the draft proposal developed by the Project Management Team.

The workshop aimed to set a common understanding of lessons from TL I and II; discuss practical implementation challenges and solutions for TL III; identify concrete implementation arrangements for effective delivery of project outputs and outcomes; and finalize the Phase III proposal for submission to the Gates Foundation by 31 July.  

Speaking at the workshop, ICRISAT Deputy Director General for Research, Dr CLL Gowda reaffirmed the commitment of ICRISAT and partner centers, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in the partnership arrangements under the tropical legumes projects.

Welcoming the delegates, Dr Rajeev Varshney, Principal Investigator, TL II, and Research Program Director – Grain Legumes, thanked the Gates Foundation for its continuous support to the projects. “The TL II project has been highly successful in enhancing incomes of poor people in the target countries,” he said. 

Dr Jeff Ehlers, Program Officer, Gates Foundation, emphasized that TL III should be aligned with the foundation’s strategic goals. Specifically, the proposed project should underscore: modernized global breeding systems to produce farmer-preferred varieties that outyield 2013 varieties by 10%; national programs to achieve higher genetic gains for the development of more productive and nutritious varieties; new technologies designed considering the preferences of women smallholder farmers; and greater nutrient availability and improved nutritional status of target population.

Dr AJ Cavalieri noted that the Gates Foundation continues to be committed to improving productivity of smallholder farmers as evidenced by the level of support given in the past eight years for agricultural development, specifically targeting the smallholder farmers. Recognizing the success of TL I and II, he said that the foundation is pleased to support the TL III project, as legumes are key in improving nutrition and empowering poor farmers, particularly women.

Participants of the workshop agreed that in order to achieve its objectives, TL III should create and nurture partnerships with other key actors like extension services, gender specialists, nutritionists, higher institutions of learning, public and private companies, regulatory agencies, policy makers, farmer associations, seed and fertilizer companies, agro-dealers, traders, agro-processors, marketing agencies; and regional and sub-regional organizations or other related projects in order to build synergies, and to achieve fast wider adoption and dissemination.

During the workshop, Drs Ndeye Ndack-Diop and Emmanuel Monyo, TL I and TL II Project Coordinators, respectively, synthesized the seven seasons of learning, achievements and challenges of the projects for all the stakeholders to build upon.

Both TL I (led by GCP) and TL II (led by ICRISAT) are funded by the Gates Foundation. The TL II project is a joint initiative of three international agricultural research centers: ICRISAT (chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea), IITA (cowpea and soybean), and CIAT (common bean). It is being implemented under the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Attracting youth back to agriculture in Africa

Mr Nicola Huet, Director of Campus France in Mali and Dr R Tabo interacting with the students.

With an aim to attract youth back into agriculture and nurture their curiosity and passion for sciences and research for development, ICRISAT along with the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) organized a joint exhibition of their research results at the first ‘Sciences Day’ organized by the French school, Lycée Liberté, in Mali.

A view of the ICRISAT and World Vegetable Center
exhibit stand. Photo: ICRISAT

Both organizations made presentations on their research work on cereals, legumes and vegetables. Dr Ramadjita Tabo, incoming Director, ICRISAT West and Central Africa (WCA), was in attendance at a roundtable session aiming to help students with professional orientation. Students were keen to learn about agronomy and scientific careers linked to agricultural development in Africa and some also expressed their desire to be agronomists.

Following the event, students and staff of Lycée Liberté expressed interest in visiting ICRISAT’s research station at Samanko in Mali, and to learn more about the technologies developed by the institute and its partners.

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Developing partnerships in communication in Africa

(L to R): Dr R Tabo, Incoming Director, ICRISAT WCA; Dr Oumou Traore Cisse, Scientific Coordinator - Technologies Transfer and Gender, IER; Dr Bouréma Dembélé, Director General, IER; Ms J Kane-Potaka; Dr F Waliyar, ICRISAT Director, WCA; and Ms Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon, Coordinator Africa RISING West Africa and East/Southern Africa Projects during a meeting at the IER office in Mali.

Recent discussions with research institutes, nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and donors in Africa indicated that communications was the area most in need of strengthening and capacity building – emphasizing the importance given by ICRISAT to developing partnerships in communication. Such opportunities to enhance the level of communications through partnerships were discussed and opportunities identified in a recent visit to Africa by Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT’s Strategic Marketing and Communication Director.

The Mali Regional Centre for Training and Applications in Agrometeorology and Operational Hydrology (AGRHYMET) identified areas of collaboration and information sharing and are working on a first ever Memorandum of Understanding for communications. Some other partners visited included the Institut National de Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and the Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER).

Discussions with ICRISAT staff highlighted the importance of incorporating communications into research projects to contribute to the uptake of scientific results and to broadly share the new scientific information with a wider community. Using communications methods to better sensitize others to gender issues in research for development was also strategized.

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ICRISAT-ABI’s client wins Social Enterprise Award at Sankalp 2014

Dr R Balaji proudly displaying his Sankalp Social
Enterprise Award 2014. Photo: S Vemu, ICRISAT

Swayambhu Biologics, a graduate incubatee of ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) Program was adjudged the winner of the Social Enterprise Award 2014 under the Agriculture, Food and Livelihoods category at the Sankalp Unconvention Summit 2014, held on 9-11 April in Mumbai, India.

Swayambhu Biologics was recognized for its path-breaking, proprietary compost technology on Accelerated Rapid Biological Intervention Technology (ARBIT), the first of its kind in the world. This technology composts press-mud in 14 days as against the existing 90-120 days, which is then ready for conversion as Phosphate Rich Organic Manure (PROM). ICRISAT-ABI has been working with Swayambhu Biologics for the past two years in the commercialization of their proprietary ARBIT technology.

The Sankalp Unconvention Summit is one of the largest conferences that focus on identifying and promoting social enterprises in Asia. ICRISAT-ABI has been a regular participant of this Summit, identifying potential innovators and investors for incubator activities.

Dr R Balaji, Managing Director of Swayambhu Biologics received the award while Mr Suneel Vemu represented ICRISAT-ABI at the event.

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Helping smallholder farmers embrace ICT technology

A woman farmer getting a voice message weather
advisory on her mobile phone.Photo: ICRISAT

At the workshop on “Mobile Use in Transfer of Technology” held at the Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) on 28 March,  participants acknowledged the mobile phone as a popular medium that can be integrated effectively for technology transfer in agriculture.

“If every scientist of ANGRAU, by leveraging expertise from ICRISAT, connects to at least 100 farmers using Information and Communication Technology (ICT), we will be able to reach out to more than 100,000 farmers in one year,” Dr A Padma Raju, Vice-Chancellor, ANGRAU said in his inaugural message.

The workshop was organized to discuss and review the existing extension system of the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), a farm science center for every district, and the District Agricultural Advisory and Transfer of Technology Centres (DATTCs) of ANGRAU.

As chief guest, Dr G Dileepkumar, Global Leader, ICRISAT’s Knowledge Sharing and Innovation, briefed the participants on the ICT-related activities of the institute.

“ICRISAT’s Green SIM system (with its Krishi Gyan Sagar and Krishi Vani initiatives) has increased expert-farmer contact and also helped in establishing and strengthening linkages between research – extension – markets, proving that innovative ICT-mediated extension systems are vital for improving productivity and livelihoods of farming communities,” he said.

Dissemination of the right information, at the right time using appropriate channels can help smallholder farmers increase food production and mitigate the challenges of climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, food crisis, energy crisis and population explosion.

The participants were organized into working groups to share ICT experiences with each other, and discuss existing ICT models and challenges and the way forward.

Dr G Dileepkumar speaking at the workshop on “Mobile Use in Transfer of Technology”.Photo: ICRISAT

Based on the group outputs, an action plan was proposed by Dr Dileepkumar, on innovative ICT-mediated extension and delivery platforms for improving productivity and profitability of smallholder farmers.

Members for taskforce committee, content validation and partnership development teams were selected to implement the action plan. ANGRAU has agreed to provide a seed funding of ` 985,000 (US$ 16,300 approximately) to kick start the project activities to replicate KGS and KV at identified DAATTCs and KVKs.

Dr K Raja Reddy, Director of Research, ANGRAU; Mr K Rajashekar from the National Informatics Centre (NIC), Hyderabad; Dr Narayana Rao, State Manager, IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Ltd (IKSL); Dr MVR Sehsasai, Group Director (Agriculture), National Remote Sensing Centre; and Mr Senthil Kumar, Head of Department (Information services), Reliance Foundation, were among the other speakers at the event.

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